Thursday, October 30, 2008


I've always liked DHL. They've always been great when it comes to delivering stuff in a hurry to odd places all over the world, even when being shot at. When I needed a domestic courier for overnight packages, I went with DHL because I was already using them for import and export shipping, and because I could get really good prices on prepaid shippers through Costco.

Lately, though, I'm having second thoughts. For quite a while I used their overnight services with no major problems - the worst was a rural delivery that got lost for a few days. When they moved the cutoff time for shipments from 4:45 to 3:45 it was tolerable, if annoying. But several weeks ago, I discovered that two days after dropping off a couple of urgent packages at the local depot well before the cutoff, they hadn't even been removed from the drop box in front of the depot!

Apparently something like half of their drivers just walked off the job. After pleading with the woman at the desk for about 10 minutes, I finally got her to give the packages back, since they weren't going to make it out that night and one of them absolutely had to be delivered the next day. I had to carry that one over to UPS myself and pay about $50 for UPS Red next-day shipping. Fortunately UPS has a much later cutoff time.

I never got my money back on the wasted prepaid shippers. They've never made good on any delivery guarantee, for that matter. I've filed a couple of claims and never got a thing out of it.

The worst was last week when I got a call from a customer who'd ordered a part to be delivered to their hotel room while they were briefly in the country on business. It hadn't shown up on time, and when I called DHL to inquire about it, I was told that since it was outside of a major metropolitan area they couldn't provide next-day service. Ok, I thought, two days should still be plenty. Nope - turns out that they don't even try, they just hand it over to the post office. Estimated delivery time on this 'overnight' package? Eight days! For under $5 I could have handed it to the post office myself and had it there in two days.

Turns out DHL is scaling back their US operations. I'm sorry to lose what was, for a while, a very attractive shipping option. I shipped a lot of stuff crammed into reasonably priced flat-rate mailers. Guess I'll have to work on some UPS or FedEx options.

I think it's worth mentioning that the USPS does an awesome job about 99.6% of the time. Even after all of the rate increases, you can still get a 1 lb package coast to coast in about two days for around $5, even to remote rural addresses. I've shipped thousands of pacakges by first class and priority mail, and they've lost or seriously delayed maybe half a dozen. The local clerks deserve some credit, too. Mario, Dave, Esther, Lynn - you guys are great. Edgar - you're new, so I'll cut you some slack.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


A couple of weeks ago I volunteered to help out with a session on APRS at SARCity, an annual search and rescue conference in Barstow. I'd actually been to SARCity twice before, as an Explorer with the Santa Maria SAR team, so I was looking forward to seeing what had changed in the 15 years or so since my last visit.

Originally the class was supposed to be on K9 tracking, but thanks to some cancellations I wound up doing the whole 90 minute session myself and had the focus of the class shifted to general APRS use for SAR - I'm really not a dog person and didn't have much to show in that area.

Byonics and BigRedBee gratiously loaned me examples of their latest integrated tracker/transmitters, and I tried to keep the talk vendor-neutral. I had one of the first prototypes of my transceiver package there, but it's programmed for 12.5 kHz channels and won't tune 144.39 Mhz, so I didn't have it running as part of the demo. The final, 5 kHz/6.25 kHz radios are due in this week - I'll try to get something posted on them soon.

The class went pretty well, I think. I managed to run a bit over my time limit without really looking at my talk outline. This is probably the third or fourth time that's happened - I think I need to learn to just put the outline away once I'm satisfied with my slides and know what I want to talk about.

In all, the weekend was a blast. Surprisingly, I didn't see anyone I recognized from the Santa Barbara County team. Which was probably just as well, I suppose. There are some great people on that team, but I'm still bitter about how my association with the team ended and there are a couple of people I'd rather not have to deal with. I can't even write about it without getting angry all over again, so I'm not going to try to explain.

It was very gratifying to hear from members of several other teams that they thought I had something valuable to contribute to SAR, though. I've been invited back to talk again next year, so hopefully next time I'll have a lot more to demonstrate and I'll be able to do some more hands-on exercises.

Maybe I'll be able to overlap it a bit with the GIS track put on by ESRI - from my motel room in Barstow I was able to hack together a new output module for the Tracker2 that produces the same format as the Thales radios they had already interfaced to ArcMap, and on Sunday morning we were able to successfully plot APRS stations. ArcMap/ArcView/ArcGIS and that whole family have a steep learning curve and a hefty price tag, but apparently ESRI has some sort of grant program for SAR teams, and they're so far beyond the usual mapping applications most teams use that there's really no comparison. Assuming you've got a ton of computing power and a trained operator, anyway.